“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines…”  You likely know the rest.  In this New Year, Old You segment, we visit Madeline, the adorable scamp whose bravery is unparalleled among her schoolmates.  Author and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans not only knows how to spin a fun tale in clever rhyme, but also seems to be well aware of the truism that there is nothing more exciting or jealousy-inducing for children than another child’s health emergency.

Half the fun of course (especially for adults) is the awe inspiring armchair traveling you get to do of Paris.  The City of Lights is on beautiful display particularly when Bemelmans breaks from his yellow and black palette to show off sights such as Notre Dame, The Gardens at the Luxembourg and The Place Vendome in all of their colorful glory.  And lest you worry that you’re a little old to still be obsessed with these children’s book illustrations, don’t worry.  You’re just like the Madeleine of another book, The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.  She keeps the Bemelmans murals on her childhood bedroom walls even as we follow her into early adulthood adventures, complete with love triangle, but sadly devoid of any dramatic appendix removals.



Little Bear


Tops in our falling apart, cracked spine “I Can Read” collection, and next is the New Year, Old You series is the Little Bear collection.   Some of my all time favorite stories (Else Holmelund Minarik) and illustrations (Maurice Sendak) come from these tattered pages.  The Goblin Story from Little Bear’s Visit, with its dramatic “the pit – pat – pit – pat came closer, closer – CLOSER” line is so much fun to read aloud.  Little Bear Goes To The Moon from Little Bear is a lovely tribute to a child’s imagination and unwavering belief in his own abilities.  And then there is the the touching final chapter of Little Bear’s Friend, in which our young hero must learn how to say goodbye.

As delightful an adventurous scamp as Little Bear is, I think the most fun is in the quirky cast of characters he surrounds himself with.  There is gruff Father Bear, who in the Hiccups chapter of Father Bear Comes Home glares up from his newspaper and demands “How can I read with all that noise?” (Quick side note for my younger blog readers – the “newspaper” I referenced is an old fashioned printed source of current events, and the predecessor to the cell phone in parental tools used to ignore pesky children.)  There is ornery Hen from A Kiss from Little Bear, whose exasperated “Too much kissing” line to the amorous skunks is still a favorite family quote.  There is Emily, from Little Bear’s Friend, who for reasons left unexplained appears to live with her family in a tent down by the river (perhaps next to her uncle Matt Foley).  Finally of course there is Mother Bear, who always comes across as the good cop (thank you, Else Holmelund Minarik).

The Runaway Bunny

As you’ve likely surmised by now via my New Year, Old You series, I have a soft spot in my heart for the classics.  And yet.  There are some enduring titles that always seemed a little off to me.  Top of the list in that “Really?  Still so popular?” file is The Runaway Bunny (unpublished subtitle: The Official Helicopter Parent’s Guide to Stalking Your Children).

I know that it’s endured for generations now, but please.  Is no one else creeped out by this mama bunny’s overzealous commitment to never letting her child out of her sight?  You go down the lane?  I go down the lane.  You go to a sleepover?  I go to a sleepover.  You go to college?  I’m your motherf*cking roommate.  You go on your honeymoon?  Better believe I’m there, baby bunny.  YOU. WON’T. EVER. ESCAPE. ME.  #sometimesimsnarky

The Snowy Day

Happy first day of February!  Still doing that New Year, New Year workout regime?  Good for you!  What’s that?  You gave up the juice cleanse?  Probably for the best (let’s be clear -that’s just a starvation diet anyhow).  Good news is that I’m still living in the past with my New Year, Old You series.  Today I get to shine a spotlight on The Snowy Day.  There’s a reason that classics like this one are passed on from generation to generation.  The magical transformation of a city into a snowy, hushed playground, the joy of wandering off on one’s own to create adventure, the fun of reliving said adventures, and the delightful surprise when a new day dawns with more snowy fun in store.

Now that my kids are so over picture books for the most part, I get to go back and read them myself.  While these timeless stories once brought me back to my own childhood, they now bring me back to my own kids’ early childhood days.  Mind you, my youngest is a very new five year old, so “reflecting back” on my early parenting days is a bit like writing a premature memoir (Not you, Anna and Lena.  You’re goddesses who’ve accomplished a lot.  Carry on).  I am absolutely that mom who now stares wistfully at newer moms in coffee shops with their babes in arms, oblivious to the fact that they are wiping spit up off their sweater, or allowing an extra ten minutes to clean up whatever their little one left all over the floor.  Anyhow.  When I used to read The Snowy Day to my kids, their baby and toddler legs would kick in anticipation as they waited for the “Down fell the snow -plop! -on top of Peter’s head,” line, during which I always tapped their heads.  Who knows what they’ll remember and pass on to their own kids from this book one day.  I just hope they enjoy it as much as we did.  (At least four grand kids, please, by the way.  I like babies.)

Last Stop on Market Street

Quick break from my New Year, Old You series this month as we all take the day off (please discuss with your employer, this may not actually a national holiday) to celebrate the big winners of the annual Children’s Book Oscars.  While I celebrate this year’s winners, and encourage them to thank their moms before the music starts playing over their acceptance speeches, this story on Morning Edition today actually reminded me of how much I love, love, loved last year’s Newberry and Caldecott selection.

Last Stop on Market Street is the sweet tale of young CJ and his Nana as they take the bus after church.  Parents might recognize their own children in CJ’s plaintive and constant questions.  Why do they have to wait in the rain, take the bus, get off in an ugly neighborhood?  Nana is patient, kind and positive with each answer, gently reminding him “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”  There is beauty indeed as they arrive at their destination, a soup kitchen where they serve treasured regulars.  Matt de la Peña‘s words and Christian Robinson‘s pictures combine perfectly to pay witness to goodness and love in the world.  And they represent an all too rare reflection of diversity in children’s literature (ahem, publishers).

Also, for a little Monday Fun Day.  Yes, Random House.  You understand.  Good one.

Blueberries for Sal

Maine.  The Way Life Should Be.  It’s true!  And what better spirit guide to the Down East life than New England bard of the books for kids, Robert McCloskey.  There is a reason his books have endured as classics over the years.  You get to armchair travel and visit the flinty, charming, quirky people and animals that inhabit the beautiful Northeast.

Next in my New Year, Old You series is Blueberries for Sal, a tale so beloved that my kids will probably be blogging about it when they’re grown up (by blinking into their iRings or whatever Apple has come up with by then).  Young Sal traverses up Blueberry Hill with her mother, who is intent on canning blueberries for winter.  But Sal, being of a toddler mind, is much more interested in eating the berries right away, or listening to the the satisfying kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk sound they make on being dropped in her pail.  A mother bear and her cub are stocking up on blueberries on the other side of the hill.  Hilarity ensues when the hungry kids get separated from their mothers and start following the opposite species instead.  Everyone loves a good mix up.  But to assuage the concern of any separation anxiety prone child (i.e. every kid), the message at the end is clear.  Mothers, be they human or ursine, will always, always find their way back to their children.

Nutshell Library

Happy Friday!  Next up in my New Year, Old You series is a collection of books so treasured by a smaller me that the pages are actually falling out a bit.  No matter, they’re still adorable.  The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak contains four volumes, each about the exact size of the toddler to early elementary sized hands they’re intended for.  Half the fun of these volumes is just how tiny they are.  Included in the set is Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue, Alligators All Around: An Alphabet, One Was Johnny: A Counting Book and Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months.  Each contain the signature Sendak mischievous children and engaging drawings, made all the more winsome by their reduced size.

Growing up with an ample Sendak library, I loved hearing the man behind the wise words and pictures in his touching final “Fresh Air” interview.  If you really wave the geek flag high for authors (guilty), you might also enjoy hearing Terry Gross and Jonathan Safran Foer discuss said Sendak interview.  And if you’re suffering through a cold winter wherever you are, just remember…

In January

it’s so nice

while slipping

on the sliding ice

to sip

hot chicken soup with rice.